Round 2: After football’s success, men’s hoops hosts No. 1 Buckeyes

first_imgRound One came in the middle of last October, when No. 1 Ohio State carried its perfect 6-0 record into Camp Randall Stadium, only to leave shocked and awed following a 31-18 Wisconsin football victory.Round Two comes Saturday afternoon, but on the hardwood of the Kohl Center. The No. 13/14 Wisconsin men’s basketball team (18-5, 8-3) will host the No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes (24-0, 11-0), and in doing so, the Badgers face the nation’s consensus No. 1 team of the past four weeks. Much in the vein of its gridiron peers, Wisconsin will enter Saturday knowing exactly what kind of environment it has to rely on, as the Badgers have won 16 consecutive games in the Kohl Center.Yet, don’t expect Wisconsin to need any extra motivation from the football team’s previous success.“I don’t think it gives you any more motivation,” forward Jon Leuer said. “Anytime you play a talented team like Ohio State, No. 1 team in the country, that’s enough motivation already. We’re going to be prepared as best we can, and hopefully we can get the job done.”If living up to the football team’s victory hasn’t added enough pressure, Wisconsin is surely tasked with improving on Wednesday’s performance at Iowa. Despite playing a last-place Hawkeyes squad, the Badgers immediately struggled on offense. UW made just 6-of-33 (18.2 percent) shots from the floor in the first half and entered halftime trailing, 23-18.Fortunately for Wisconsin, the second half was friendlier, as the Badgers made 11-of-27 (40.7 percent) shots to force overtime. For the game, Wisconsin made 25-of-60 (41.7 percent) field goals and left Iowa City with a physically grueling 62-59 victory.“As nice as it is, sometimes, to beat people comfortably, you always love those games where you kind of figure out who’s going to make plays in the clutch,” forward Keaton Nankivil said. “You see someone like Josh [Gasser] down on the floor as a freshman, that says a lot about him and it says a lot about a lot of the guys on our team, the way we kind of rallied together to come from behind.”Saturday, against the nation’s top team, Wisconsin likely won’t be able to purely rely on hustle and grit to top Ohio State. The Buckeyes boast one of the nation’s legitimate player of the year candidates in freshman forward Jared Sullinger. The 6-foot-9, 280-pound Columbus, Ohio, native is averaging 18 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, and the latter statistic has him tied with Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe for the Big Ten lead.Essentially, in Sullinger, the Badgers face arguably the best player they have seen all year.“He moves so well without the ball that once he gets the ball, a lot of his work is already done,” Nankivil said. “That’s, I think, what makes him most effective.”Sullinger’s size, mobility and skillset garner much of the attention surrounding the Buckeyes, but his ability to set up his surrounding cast is largely responsible for OSU’s run at perfection. Behind Sullinger, guard William Buford is second with 13.6 points per game while also contributing 3.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.Between Buford and guard Jon Diebler, who is fourth on the team with 11.2 points per game and shoots a team-leading 47.9 percent from three-point range, the Buckeyes have the ability to kill teams from outside. Ohio State is currently first in the Big Ten in scoring offense (77.8 points per game), scoring margin (plus-20 points per game) and field goal percentage (.496), and it is second in three-point shooting (.404).For Wisconsin, the key will be playing to its strengths. The Badgers average the fewest possessions per game (58.6) in the nation, but they make the best of every one. Wisconsin is second behind only Saint Mary’s in points per possession with 1.19 and remains tops in the nation with a 1.8 assist-turnover ratio. Point guard Jordan Taylor, second on the team with 17.7 points per game and first with 4.7 assists per game, also leads the nation with a 3.9 assist-turnover ratio.Having been involved in last year’s upset of Duke – Wisconsin basketball’s most recent landmark win – Taylor has a strong idea of what the Badgers and Buckeyes will walk into Saturday afternoon.“Anytime you get the number one [team in the country], that’s kind of a once in a career type of thing,” Taylor said. “I don’t think a lot of guys get to play against the number one team in the country, especially at home. I expect it to be fun and loud, and we’ll be ready to go.”last_img

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